I received many expressions of sympathy after my mother died last year. One of the most meaningful (pictured) came from a child in my life. Her parents said it was her idea. But behind the scenes of that child’s loving act was parental support facilitating her idea to find its way into my hands (and my grieving heart).
The spirit’s domain
Most of us long for more harmony, unity, and kindness in our world. Intangibles like these flow from our innermost being and some of us sense the presence of God through them.
Show children how to lift a person’s spirit in their everyday life.
One of our readers offered an example from her family: While getting donuts at the local donut shop, Tyler and I noticed a homeless person walking through the parking lot. We were late to a baseball game my husband was coaching so we hurried to our car.
I looked at Tyler who was putting our leftover change in the console between the seats. “We should do something for that guy.” Tyler said “Why don’t we give him our change? It’s not much but it’s something.” Tyler gathered the change and walked over to speak with him and [lift the man’s spirit].
When a child shows us the way to lift a human spirit and we are humbled.
How can we amplify acts of kindness so children’s perspectives focus outward more often — on the gifts they have to contribute to the world? On the good they can do for others? On understanding the feelings and perspectives of others?
- Applauding adult involvement when children want to do good toward other people. See examples here. Click to Tweet
- How we make the world a better place when we let kids do something nice for others even when it is inconvenient. Click to Tweet
Readers of this blog know we focus on exploration of a child’s human spirit. Nature plays a crucial role in spiritual development and health. After all– to state the obvious– it’s our natural habitat. We are wired for it. Children need to spend time in nature– even city kids need the parks.
From nature, children…
- gain a certain perspective unattainable from any other source
- acquire neuroconnections key to brain function
Nature advances a web of life perspective
One of Alexander von Humboldt’s most important discoveries was that nature is a web of life. He found Earth to be one great living organism and a place where everything is connected. Humboldt wrote, “no single fact can be considered in isolation.”
He was the first to recognize the forest as an ecosystem. As such, he predicted devastating consequences of despoiling the face of the earth. However, though he was captivated by empirical data, he never lost his sense of wonder. He wrote that, “nature must be experienced through feeling.”
How do the children in your life “feel” nature’s web of life?
- Relationally – through a connection with their pet(s), tending vegetables in a garden, nurturing a potted plant
- Powerfully – awe and wonder of nature as far bigger than all of us, through astronomy, IMAX nature movies
- Creatively – inspiration for poetry, photography
- Experientially – sitting at the side of a lake listening to the water lap against the shore
Connections with nature build neuroconnections in the child’s brain.
From Dr. Becky Bailey’s work on Conscious Discipline, I learned more about how a child’s connections on the outside build neuroconnections on the inside. When relating to people, these outside connections come from eye contact, touch and presence.
When relating to nature, one woman describes an insight gained from sitting in a forest:
Your colleagues or supervisor at work won’t allow you to pursue your ideas. Then, you notice that a tree looks like it was initially growing in one direction, but something got in the way and now it’s growing—and thriving—in another. It’s as if the tree is saying, “Grow where you can! Send your energy to where you will be nurtured!”
A sense of peace envelops you as you lay down a fruitless struggle. Then a new creative space emerges as a more helpful question dawns on you: “Where can I grow?” (Kris Abrams)
Many great writers, thinkers, scientists, and poets have reflected extensively on nature:
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. (Albert Einstein)
Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction. (E. O. Wilson)
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. (Henry David Thoreau)
Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher. (William Wordsworth)
Children learn all living things can be our teacher.
Happy Earth Day!
- #EarthDay2016: Connections in nature build neuroconnections in a child’s brain. Click to Tweet
- #EarthDay2016: From nature, children gain a certain perspective unattainable from any other source. Click to Tweet
What does spiritual discouragement look like in children? No hope for a way out of a tough situation? The faith (or nonfaith) they are growing up with not aligning with what they read, hear, see or feel in school and the world around them? Tired of rituals that do not resonate?
In the depths of their spirit they might hurt because of bad religion or no religion. Maybe a young person is seeking to understand new sensations that “something other” is nearby, hoping, if they focus on that mysterious presence (of God?), it will manifest itself in their life. Or maybe they’re running away from religion or it just doesn’t make sense to them now in their current stage of life.
One man I interviewed gave four ideas for encouraging discouraged kids.
I went to religious schools—one of them in particular stunted the possibility for spiritual growth in me by putting a crabby, nasty, angry, judgmental face on God. They masked God to the point where I could no longer derive comfort from him.
Then another religious school (it was Mennonite, which is not my own faith tradition) dismantled that false, ugly face for me. Through their gentle words and humor and fun and acceptance, they drew me back to the Shepherd.
I cannot overstate what a difference this made to me: If I had continued in the other school I can conceive that it might have taken many years to journey back to the God of love. There is a distinct possibility I would have never returned to a spiritual path that includes the Christian tradition.
Gentle words, humor, fun and acceptance
Our best friends and our favorite people do all these with us when we’re discouraged! It is the same with children. When we’ve listened without judgment to their distress or doubts and returned gentle words, haven’t we sensed them “melt” into the wonder of being heard and accepted? Humor can relax our discouraged spirits, and sometimes it’s just the fun of letting laughter wash over us that can bring refreshment and a wider perspective.
Tweetable: What does spiritual discouragement look like in kids? And the encouragement they’re looking for. Click to Tweet
We all have a spiritual history. Awareness of our history—experiences, stories, defaults, blindspots–allows us to be fair with the important children in our lives.
A personal example–one of my blindspots
My spiritual history contains a chapter of my life in which I insisted on getting people to agree with my religious perspective. I felt responsible for their faith decisions.
My shift from ignorance to awareness
I don’t recall when or how I shifted from ignorance to awareness. Suddenly I recognized each man, woman and child is on his or her own journey of spiritual discovery and it may take them somewhere different from mine. I backed away from playing God in the lives of my friends to understand God is guiding them on their own path. I carry the same attitude into my conversations with children now.
Notice how another parent was confronted with her own spiritual history– and ambivalence– as she tried to answer her child’s questions.
My husband and I were raised in a Catholic family although our parents never had us attend Mass unless it was for a wedding, etc. The other day, we were passing by this gorgeous church in downtown Oakland and my 3 1/2 year-old asked me what it was. I told her it was a church.
She said: “Is that a place to go for lunch?”
And then… I tried to find the words to explain that some people go there to think about loved ones that are gone, etc… Too complicated!!!!
Our view on spirituality is that we are non-religious persons believing that there is something or someone out there but we don’t really know what/who. And that religion is the answer to humans about everything we couldn’t understand, or to control population. How to explain this?
Questions to increase mindfulness of your spiritual history
- What do you remember about your first awareness of God?
- In what ways did your parents or other caregivers engage with your early spiritual development?
- What were your early ideas of what God was like? What positive emotions did you associate with God? What negative emotions?
- What stories did your parents tell you of their spiritual history?
Tweetable: Awareness of our spiritual history increases the likelihood we’ll be fair when we discuss religion with kids. Click to Tweet